AARP is appalled at how the COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged nursing homes and long-term care facilities, accounting for almost 40 percent of deaths attributed to the virus, and is demanding Congress take action to better protect residents and staff.
“Those responsible for taking care of these most vulnerable people know we need to be doing more to protect these individuals,” said Beau Ballinger, AARP New Mexico Interim State Director. “From more testing and protective gear, to the way families are being communicated with, efforts need to be ramped up.”
“While New Mexico has done a lot of things right to limit the amount of spread and fatalities at our facilities, compared to other states, AARP New Mexico has been discussing with the New Mexico Aging and Long-Term Services Department, where challenges still exist,” Ballinger said. (See article “State’s Aggressive Stance to COVID-19 Limits Spread in Nursing Homes”)
Those challenges align with issues that AARP is urging Congress to address.
In order to keep residents safe and stop the spread of COVID-19 at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, AARP is asking Congress ensure all facilities regularly test residents and staff; have adequate personal protective equipment, or PPE, and know how to use it effectively; publicly report COVID-19 cases and deaths daily; and facilitate virtual visits between residents and their families.
“Health officials say that understanding and containing the spread of COVID-19 requires ongoing, regular testing of all long-term care residents and workers. With rigorous testing, nursing homes can identify cases and prevent the spread of the virus,” Ballinger said.
“In our discussion with the state, they are increasing testing to 20 percent of staff and 25 percent of all residents but their ultimate goal is 100 percent of staff to ensure the virus is not entering a facility from outside. Congress can ensure more testing by providing those resources,” he said.
One area where the state is excelling is being transparent about the number of positive cases, as well as fatalities, occurring at nursing homes and LTC facilities. The New Mexico Department of Health reports those figures at each facility, keeping a running total, daily – something other states refuse to do.
“While talking about loved ones dying can be heartbreaking and unpleasant, it is imperative that Congress demand that nursing homes and other long-term care facilities publicly report daily the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths among residents and staff. Only complete transparency will help public health officials direct resources to the places that need it most and allow residents, prospective residents, and their families to make informed decisions about their lives,” Ballinger said.
The same holds true with ensuring family members have regular updates with their loved one as well as an opportunity to visit with them virtually, since in person visits are still problematic.
“It is very sad that family members can’t visit their loved ones in person, especially if that person is ill or dying. Congress needs to find ways to keep families connected and ensure people that their loved ones are receiving the proper care. Loved ones serve as additional eyes and ears in facilities and are often the first to spot changes in a resident’s physical or mental health. Virtual visits can help fill these gaps and reduce the isolation residents face while visitors are banned or not allowed to visit regularly,” Ballinger said.
To help increase virtual visits, AARP is supporting the ACCESS Act, which would provide grants to nursing homes to obtain and use technologies and services needed to support virtual visits. The Act also would provide $50 million to the Telehealth Resource Center Program to develop telehealth technologies for nursing homes and would require a report to Congress on ways to increase access to telehealth in nursing homes under Medicare and Medicaid during the current public health emergency. New Mexico Rep. Debra Haaland is a co-sponsor of the legislation.
“This funding would support more virtual access to nursing home residents to enable more residents and families to stay connected both to help combat social isolation and to allow families to ensure their loved ones are being well cared for,” Ballinger said.
Another area of concern for AARP is a movement in a number of states to grant nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, immunity related to COVID-19.
Although that effort has yet to take hold in New Mexico, AARP New Mexico sent a letter to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham strongly opposing any such proposal.
“AARP has long fought for the rights of residents in nursing homes and other residential care facilities to ensure their health, safety, quality of care, and quality of life. This includes the right of residents and their families to seek legal redress through the courts to hold facilities accountable when residents are harmed, neglected, or abused,” the letter states.
“New Mexico should not strip away the rights and protections of residents. Nursing homes and other LTC facilities should know they will continue to be held responsible for providing the level of quality care that is required of them, and for which they are being compensated. This also incentivizes facilities to self-correct by addressing problems to improve care,” it states.
Ballinger said, “Long-term care providers must remain responsible for any negligent actions that fail to protect the health — and lives — of residents and staff. Litigation is an option of last resort, and no family member who has lost a loved one due to neglect or abuse pursues this course of action lightly. Now is not the time to strip nursing home residents and families of their rights—and to let nursing homes off the hook for abuse, neglect, and even death.”
AARP New Mexico asks you to urge your Member of Congress to take action now and protect our most vulnerable residents at: